Samantha is a Study Melbourne Ambassador. Study Melbourne has 22 international student and alumni ambassadors for 2018. During their time as ambassadors, they regularly share insights and experiences to help international students have a great experience while studying here in Victoria. 

937 days as an international student in Victoria

by Samantha Lim

“Your birth certificate proves that you were born but your life story proved that you lived” – Anonymous

I was waiting to check-in at the airport when the flashbacks took over. All I could think was I could still turn around and leave. Tears started streaming down my cheeks. Suddenly, images of my family and school teachers as well as their words of wisdom hit me hard. Five minutes past and it was my turn to check in. I checked in and walked over to the boarding gate with my grandaunt - my caregiver who was travelling with me – however echoes of uncertainty circled.

Study goals, dreams and desires

I was chastised for rejecting a German engineering scholarship interview and a place in a top Russian medical school. ‘Ungrateful’ was what people called me. They would say students worked incredibly hard throughout their schooling years and anticipated the days when scholarship offers would arrive in their mailboxes or emails. I had to explain that physics wasn’t something I would enjoy. While a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery sounded great, I knew I wasn’t ready for the practical work. I decided to study in Melbourne when I received a partial scholarship from Swinburne University of Technology to study psychology with a major in forensic science and a minor in applied mathematics.

At 14 my science teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Loud and proud, I told him that I wanted to be a psychologist because I had always been fascinated by the brain’s dominance over the human body. Biology was my favourite subject in school. Having understood all the different branches in psychology now, my long-term objective is to build more bridges between social psychology and gerontology. I’m excited to conduct research which will enable me to develop interventions to improve the quality of lives of the aging population in their own homes, aged-care centres, hospitals and for those in their final days in palliative care.

Where to go, what to study?

So why did I choose Swinburne? I first learnt about Swinburne in 2011 when I represented my school in an interschool debating competition at its Malaysian campus. But I was drawn to Swinburne because of its scholarship offerings. Education can be costly but financial burden should not be a barrier for those with big dreams. Now that I am here, I really love the collaborative culture on campus as well as the non-discriminative services and facilities that support the LGBTQI community and disabled students, for instance.

Life as a Foundation Year Student

When I embarked on my education journey at Swinburne College, I remember walking into the college building. My hands were numb and I had ‘first-day-of-school’ anxiety. I could not imagine myself going from a well-known student back home to someone completely anonymous. I remember going to class with a script of how I would introduce myself - name, country, university, major. When it was my turn, I struggled to recall my own age when I realised that not everyone was the same age as me. It’s worth mentioning, most Malaysians speak English without really knowing the rules of the language but can still miraculously understand one another. That stressed me out initially because I realised how much cognitive effort it took for someone whose first language wasn’t English to communicate in an English-speaking country.

I was worried - but I didn't need to be!

A pessimistic attitude followed me around on the first day as I thought I would simply be labelled student X. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to find motivation to study and I thought I needed more time to adapt to this new experience. However, my first week as a Foundation of Science student taught me a powerful lesson – believe in yourself. I must say that my pathways journey was one of my BEST memories so far. I enjoyed every moment with my multicultural classmates and teachers. The classes were small so our teachers had time for every student and I was surprised by how quickly we bonded.

My student pathway experience was wonderful

Students often disregard their pathways experience because of the potential stress caused by the key words we often hear such as ‘attendance’ or ‘student visa conditions’. And yes, it made sense because if we failed to attend at least 80 per cent of our classes, there was a high chance that we would be sent back home. But who really wanted to miss class when we had teachers who made maths class so enjoyable and inspiring and chemistry lab sessions enthralling!

Volunteering changed my life

Is this new education journey all about that 4.00GPA? No.

I wanted to do more in my leisure time. My need was answered by a life-changing email from Swinburne Student Life. They were recruiting student volunteers to help manage orientation week. I submitted my application but I didn’t have high hopes. Surprisingly, I was accepted despite having zero experience with event management! I began my role by helping behind-the-scenes with orientation day showbag packing. This task gave me an opportunity to mingle with the experienced volunteers and they became my support when I took on a role as one of the student panels.

I was one of the youngest volunteers on the team. There are many great advantages for being a young volunteer because most senior volunteers will provide you with guidance on volunteering opportunities, your studies and even good food around campus. Through the seniors, I got to learn about the Golden Key International Honour Society that I am a part of today.

Connecting with fellow students

As part of the student panel team, I got to share my experience as a Swinburne student and educate others about the services provided by the university. These students enjoyed listening to someone their age and some of them later became my classmates. I wasn’t expecting anyone to remember me but in fact, I lost count of the number of students who approached me to ask me questions after that presentation. Some students even connected with me on social media to ask for advice on study tips and day-to-day life. It’s great practise for a soon-to-be psych graduate!

I loved contributing in the student community

I discovered I enjoyed helping people. After orientation, I decided to expand my volunteering journey so that I could continue to do something I am passionate about and help change the lives of more people. I volunteered for other events such as Swinburne’s annual Youth Humanitarian Festival, Great Book Swap, Leadership Speaker Series, science festivals and many more. It was great knowing that I could contribute to the student and wider community.

Halfway through my first year as a psychology undergraduate, I decided that volunteering on campus wasn’t challenging enough. Through the university, I landed a volunteering role with Vision Australia. I began volunteering during the Christmas period and jumped on board to contribute to Vision Australia’s Christmas gift-wrapping at Eastland Shopping Centre. Besides mastering the art of gift-wrapping, I had the chance to learn about the program from the elderly volunteers and help promote the program to shoppers and encourage them to make a gold coin donation for our services.

Volunteering beyond campus helped me meet many Victorians

Another volunteering experience worth mentioning was my 10-day experience with more than 4,500 bike riders for Bicycle Network’s annual RACV Great Victorian Bike Ride. I was a cheerleader on the activities team. I had no idea I was fit for this because the last time I held a pom-pom was more than a decade ago. But I was a risk taker so I had no shame. I had so much fun trying to fit into the costumes my team leader, a lovely breast cancer survivor, made for the event. Most importantly, I got to travel from Halls Gap to Geelong, and take in the picturesque views of the 12 Apostles, the Great Ocean Road and more touristy spots along the way.

These volunteering experiences certainly opened my eyes to Victoria’s diversity. I got to hear stories from people I would have never met without these opportunities. I saw how nurses’ eyes would tear up when they spoke about patients under their care. I heard a mum open up about her daughter’s learning disability. While I have been awarded several awards for my commitment outside of my studies, I’ve always told others what made me grow into the person I am today was the time I spent with these beautiful souls. Many can fill their rooms with trophies and certificates, but not many can feed their soul with the stories of others.

Facing the challenges of student life

“Another award? Life is easy peazy for you.”

People often thought I could easily laugh off any challenges. However, life wasn’t always easy. Read my tips on how to get out of a bad living situation as an international student.

Glad I travelled the 3954 miles

I am truly grateful for all the experiences I have had here in Victoria. Becoming a Victorian scholar means so much to me and I feel privileged to be recognised academically and in the wider community. However, I would not be who I am today without the endless opportunities given to me as a student in Victoria.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude, especially to the Victorian Government who made my east Asian dream come true by sending me to Beijing, China for an internship. My Victorian education journey is a true international education experience - and it’s more than just about the wait until graduation day.

Victoria really gives students the opportunity to live a life worthy of a documentary and I encourage other students to keep the magic alive.

Samantha Lim taking in the sights and sunshine along the Yarra River

Samantha Lim taking in the sights and sunshine along the Yarra River

About the author

Samantha arrived in Melbourne on a scholarship and is an optimistic and outgoing person who loves public speaking and volunteering with various organisations. Samantha is looking forward to giving back to the state that means so much to her and enriching the lives of other students. Meet all the Study Melbourne Student Ambassadors.

Samantha Yun Suen Lim